STORY and photos By Mika Lee & Cait Lee
People are often sad to see summer go. They resist sweater weather and protest the waning daylight hours until the bitter end. But us? We’re sipping tea on a cool night lit by lanterns. We’re nibbling on mooncake while gazing at the moon hung high in the sky.
Welcome to Mid-Autumn Festival.
The festival, which pays homage to the moon, has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years. Also called the Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival follows the lunar calendar and is typically celebrated in September or October. While celebrated by many Asian cultures, the holiday is most popular in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures.
This year’s festival begins on Friday, Sept. 13. It marks the changing of seasons and provides a reason for loved ones to gather and eat seasonal fruits and veggies at the time when they at their most healthy and delicious. Family and friends gather at the dinner table and laugh the night away enjoying pumpkin, taro and lotus root dishes.
In Chinese culture, food symbolism is woven into all holidays, and Mid-Autumn Festival is no exception. The moon, with its round shape, is represented by fruits such as pears, pomelos and persimmons and, of course, by mooncake, the most iconic dessert of this celebration.
The full moon has a circular shape that represents unity and togetherness, bringing family and friends closer during the changing season. “We’re always finding excuses [for family and friends] to spend time together,” says May, a Chinese immigrant from Taiwan. “It’s a treat when delicious food can also be shared.”
Mooncake comes in various shapes, sizes and fillings. The thin outer layer can be a soft “mochi” rice texture or firm flour-based crust. The crust envelops a smooth center filling such as lotus root, red bean, nuts and dates.
Special mooncakes may include one (or two!) salted egg yolks, another symbol of the full moon representing completeness. Sizes range from an inch to even 6 inches in diameter! The recipes can be rather involved, so we suggest researching one you can undertake online or simply buying the cakes at a local shop. Mooncake can be purchased at Chinatown Supermarket (3390 S. State, South Salt Lake, 801-906-8788, ChinatownSupermarkets.com) or Ocean Mart (115 W. 9000 South, Sandy, 801-255-1118, OceanMartSandy.business.site) while supplies last.
Traditionally, seasonal fruits were offered to deities and to the moon in thanks for the previous season’s harvest and seeking good luck for following year’s harvest. In modern times, we will use any excuse to eat mooncake while enjoying lion dance celebrations, floating lanterns in the night sky or sipping tea while gazing at the moon.
To celebrate your own Moon Festival, consider getting tickets for the Night Lights: Sky Lantern Festival to be held Saturday, Sept. 21 at Utah Motorsports Campus (512 Sheep Lane, Erda, NightLightsEvent.com)